Chattanooga’s Live Music Scene – Riverbend Survival Kit 2017

Friday, June 9, 2017 - by Bob Payne
Jason D. Williams Is Just One Of The Performers At Riverbend 2017
Jason D. Williams Is Just One Of The Performers At Riverbend 2017
- photo by Mark A. Herndon

This is Riverbend’s 36th anniversary, and this is my 10th edition of the Riverbend Survival Kit, your complete guide to one of the nation’s oldest and largest festivals. As with most years, there are some changes this year, so buckle up and let’s take a ride down Riverfront Parkway through the Riverbend Festival 2017.
Riverbend went to wristbands for admission a couple years ago, instead of the pin, which was used from the beginning of time. They still have pins, but they are commemorative collector pins only and are not good for admission!  When you get your wristband, scan it with the barcode scanner on your phone to register it.

Why? You may be eligible for prizes!
The 8-day wristband is removable, so you don’t have to wear it all week at work, or even when going in for your colonoscopy. It has a barcode on it, and MUST be scanned by festival workers when coming in to the festival AND when you depart the festival grounds, if you plan on entering again that night. So, if you come at 6 p.m., then decide to hop outside for a quick dinner downtown, and you plan on returning for the 9:30 p.m. show – you must get scanned on the way in and out of the festival grounds. If you come to the festival and are absolutely sure you are not coming back that night, you will NOT need to be scanned when leaving. The barcode resets each day, so if you are leaving for the evening and not planning to return the same evening, you do not need to have the wristband scanned. The single day wristbands, available only at the gates, do NOT get scanned. Got it? If not, just get scanned when you come in and when you leave to be safe.
According to Pollstar, the average ticket price to just the 15 Coke Stage acts total about $550.00. You can see all of them, plus dozens more artists for just $42 at Riverbend. One-day passes are available at the gate for $25 or $15 for Senior Citizens and Military. The best deal is the wristband. It is theoretically possible to buy a $42 wristband and go three nights and split the cost with a friend who could go on the other nights. On Tuesday night, Faith and Family night, wristbands are just $10 for everyone over 10.
The Bessie Smith Strut on Monday Night is a separate event from Riverbend, but the festival helps out down there with the performers, stages, and sound. This year, the folks that manage the Strut have set the price at $5.00 if you wear your Riverbend wristband and $10 if you don’t.  Wristbands are available at the entry gates. Riverbend Tokens are not accepted at the Strut. Come hungry, as there is some great food there!
The first thing you must do is get to the festival. The best way to get to Riverbend is to park down by the Choo-Choo and take the yellow shuttle bus for a buck a ride. Why fight the traffic - sit back and meet fellow festivalgoers while others ride around and around looking for a parking space. You can ride the bus, be back to your car, be out of the traffic flow, and eating at the Waffle House before most folks get out of the parking lot downtown. The drop-off is right on Broad Street at the Aquarium, just a few yards from the main entrance. They run later than the Carta shuttle, too.
Creative parkers who think the grass is a parking space, or park on the median or in the fast lane of the freeway will find their car at an impound lot down the road a bit. You will be able to retrieve it in exchange for a first-born child or a working kidney. All unclaimed cars that are towed become my property and the next day will be for sale at Bob’s Used Cars down on Swindle Avenue. I recommend parking at the Choo-Choo and riding the $1 shuttle bus right to Riverbend. Wherever you park, don’t leave valuables in plain sight and lock your car. The same thieves that rob cars in movie theater parking lots or at the mall parking lots are also downtown during all the big events.
Parking for disabled persons is provided at the parking lot in front of the Tennessee Aquarium adjacent to the Main Gate on Chestnut and Aquarium Way (2nd Street). You must have a Disabled Placard or tag. Viewing areas are reserved at ground level at each stage, and restroom facilities for the handicapped are available at each First Aid location.
Once you get your wristbands, the gates open at 5:00 P.M. each day. The old days of sneaking in at lunchtime and setting up your chairs and blankies in a strategic place are now gone! The gates are closed until 5 p.m. That makes it fairer for everyone and also is safer. The main gate is at 2nd and Chestnut beside the Aquarium (Methinks 2nd Street has been renamed Aquarium Way, by the way).  You can also enter up by Marina, off of Riverfront Parkway near the Olgiati Bridge. There is a gate up by the Unum Stage near the Hunter Art Museum and one at the downtown end of the Walnut Street Bridge. A sneaky place that has quicker lines is one block up from the main entrance on Power Alley by the Lookouts stadium.
You can bring lawn chairs, folding chairs and blankets, but may not leave them overnight. You CANNOT bring backpacks, coolers, refillable containers, laser pointers, camcorders, pets, bicycles, skateboards, drones, roller-blades, outside food or beverages, microwave ovens, cocaine, brass knuckles, pressure cookers, machetes, machine guns, grenades, or bazookas. They will search your bags; so don’t try to bring things you are not supposed to. If you act like a fool at Riverbend, you will find out that there really are Chattanooga Police officers and Hamilton County Deputies working inside the festival grounds. You may get a free set of bracelets and a one-way ride to the crossbar motel if you misbehave. A secret to dealing with security and the police at Riverbend is to just be nice and courteous to them. Follow their instructions, don’t act like a fool, and all will go well.
Service animals are of course welcome at Riverbend and the staff has been trained to help them with the rules that go along with service animals. A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. Service animals are working animals, not pets. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. If you need assistance or have a question involving your service animal, please ask to speak to a staff member or supervisor – they will be happy to answer any questions you may have.
All blankets and chairs must be removed from the grounds each evening. Each night after Riverbend, the staff will “sweep” the area and remove all remaining chairs and blankets. I hope to have them for sale the next day at Bob’s Used Lawn Chair and Blanket Store just down the way from the main gate and the aforementioned Bob’s Used Cars.
Want a Coke or a Chicken-on-a-stick? Funnel cakes? Beer? Well, your money isn’t any good at Riverbend. That’s not to say everything is free – it just means you have to buy tokens to use for your purchases. Tokens cost fifty cents each. Buy a few rolls and save a trip to the token booth each night. ATM machines are located throughout the festival grounds. Tokens are good next year if you don’t use them all.
If you want to partake of alcoholic beverages – bring your ID! Even Grandma and Grandpa will need their ID’s. Everyone that plans to purchase alcoholic beverages MUST have an ID showing they are 21 or over. Riverbend prices their food & beverages similar to or less than other entertainment venues. In fact, at last check, they were cheaper for beer, cokes, and hot dogs than all of the Major League Baseball parks and most movie theaters. (My last trip to the movies, one popcorn and two soft drinks cost me $19 – at Riverbend, they would be about half of that amount) ATM machines are located by token booths throughout the festival grounds. Wine & specialty drinks are available, too.
There is a “Lost Parents Tent” for those children who lose their parental units. This is located at the main gate on 2nd and Chestnut Street. There are plenty of volunteers in marked T-Shirts and Police officers to assist people when needed.  Speaking of volunteers, Riverbend’s are the BEST. Many have returned each year for decades. If you need something, look for a volunteer in an official t-shirt and ask. They will help you. Look for their specially trained “Ambassadors”, there to assist you with any questions you may have.
There are five stages at Riverbend. The Coke Stage is the big stage that looks like an aircraft carrier with an umbrella over it. That is where you will see Boz Scaggs, Ludacris, Old Dominion, Crowder, George Thorogood & The Destroyers, Morris Day & The Time & Cameo, Toby Keith, The Flaming Lips, The Black Jacket Symphony, Don Felder, Corey Smith, Mother’s Finest, The Purple Xperience, and Here Come The Mummies. Yes, that’s right, you can see all of these for just $42 if you buy before June 9. For an easy to read line-up, go to
The Chevy Stage has been moved to the green, across from the Coke Stage. Check out that stage and all of the Chevys down there. The Bud Light Stage is down the road one block from the front of the Coke Stage, going west. You will know it you are going west, as the sun will be setting in that direction. Riverbend has had countless acts on the Bud Light Stage that were Coke Stage quality acts just a year later, so this is a great chance to see a rising star. If you walk with the sun to your back from the Coke Stage, the TVFCU Stage and the Unum Stage are up the hill. If the sun isn’t out, then look at the compass on your cell phone. If you don’t have a cell phone or the sun isn’t out, then make sure you are walking up hill, as that is the way to the Unum and TVFCU Stages.
My favorite stages are the smaller ones, scattered throughout Riverbend. This is where you may find your “new favorite band.” Who could you see on one of the side stages? How about Brett Young, The Yardbirds, Jason D. Williams, White Denim, DeadPhish Orchestra, The Unknown Hinson, and many more.
Have you ever wondered how Riverbend picks their acts? It’s a complicated process, but they get a lot of help from several different advisors. For Faith & Family night, they rely on radio station J103 for guidance, as well as Christian leaders from the community. For Urban acts, the nice folks at Power 94 radio give them suggestions for booking. US101 is instrumental in helping with Country acts, and KZ106 helps with Classic Rock acts. Other stations also help with the selection process, plus Riverbend has an Artist Selection Committee, made up of area musicians, business leaders, radio personnel, and movers and shakers from the music business in the community.
You will find a description of the bands playing, along with a link to their websites at  I suggest that folks do their homework before going to Riverbend and check out the bands you want to see. Some acts may be rated PG, so be a good parent and you make the decision if the music is something you don’t want your kids or grandma to hear.  Riverbend encourages every band to remember that children are welcome at Riverbend and to keep that in mind when performing.
If you dislike big crowds, think about entering up by the Hunter Museum and hanging out at the stages up on that end (The Unum Stage & The TVFCU Stage). One of the coolest stages is the one under the bridge about 200 feet down the hill from the Hunter Museum. With terraced seating and ceiling fans suspended from the overhead bridge, the Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union Stage (TVFCU) is a great place to get out of the sun and heat. It is also a dry place to go if a shower pops up.
Speaking of the heat, here is a tip. Prior to arriving at Riverbend, try drinking plenty of water, maybe a gallon or two. Bottled water is available at the festival, as are some free water stations scattered about the grounds at the first aid locations. Hamilton County Emergency Services provide the first aid assistance at the festival, so you are in good hands.
 Riverbend has a mobile app that's easy to use. Check it out for all you need including festival updates. For Android phones got to: and for I-Phone, just go to I-Tunes store and search for Riverbend Festival App. It’s free. It also comes with a barcode reader that you can use to scan and register your wristband. Look for the little square in the upper right hand corner.
If you want to come by boat, make sure you have a wristband already on when you dock. Boaters can hang around in the water behind the Coke Stage for free. I like boats, so if you have a big fancy yacht and want to invite me aboard, feel free! (My contact info is at the bottom of this article) Speaking of water, if it rains, the show goes on. It’s very rare to have a show cancelled or postponed, and is usually for lightning storms or high winds. And, please remember that it may be pouring cats and hippos at your house in Ringgold, Red Bank or East Ridge, yet the sun may still be shining on Riverbend. That’s just the way our little summer storms work. If lightning is ever in the area, head for cover in your vehicle or a building.
Bring a blanket and stretch out on the lawn in front of the Coke Stage for just $10 per person, with your admission wristband. Admission is available by the Main Gate or near the Blanket Seating Area.
Basically, everywhere at the festival is non-smoking, except for those seven areas that are designated for smoking. Be a courteous smoker and use the designated areas, as they are very convenient to everything.
The Family Zone is located near the corner of Chestnut Street & Riverfront Parkway, close to the steps that lead to the river. No smoking or alcohol is allowed in the family zone.  
A great way to enjoy Riverbend is to join Club Hunter at the Hunter Museum. Club Hunter offers exclusive access to the Hunter. Club Hunter members will enjoy live video and sound feed from the Coca-Cola and Bud Light Stages, use of the Hunter’s air-conditioned facilities and exclusive, reserved seating on the Hunter Terrace for the festival’s fireworks finale on June 17. Check it out at
One of my favorite things at Riverbend is the beach. Yep, I said it – the beach. Up the hill from the Coke Stage, towards the Hunter Art Museum, you will find a big pile of sand. Sculptors will transform that pile into the doggone coolest designs you have ever seen. It’s worth a trip just to see it each day as it progresses. Take your camera!
There is music for everybody at Riverbend – Jam Bands, Country, Folk, Hard Rock, Soft Rock, Blues, Classic Rock, Jazz, Classical, R&B, Hip-Hop, Christian, and Americana. Riverbend has music for all tastes. Try something new, as you may just like it! Also, don’t forget the local acts that are playing Riverbend this year. These artists put on their best shows, with the finest equipment and sound technicians to assist them. You may hear an act that you will want to go see over and over again. Plus, if you feel the compelling desire to come meet me and maybe give me money for writing such a helpful article, you can often find me watching our great local artists perform.
Don’t forget fireworks night at Riverbend. (Saturday, June 17) It is truly one of the best fireworks displays you will ever see. Watch for the waterfall! The fireworks start immediately following the conclusion of the 9:30 p.m. act on the Coke Stage, or usually about 10:45 p.m. Stay tuned for my Riverbend picks, more information and tips. I will be covering all eight nights at Riverbend and The is your go-to place for all the festival news. Check here often and spread the word. Pay particular attention to our wonderful photos. We have world-class professional photographers taking pictures throughout the festival. You might even spot yourself in one of the photos!
See you there!
Email Bob Payne at or

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